Like Feros, Noveria is a two-location planet, with a Mako drive between them. Port Hanshan has the corporate offices, while the labs are up the snowy, hilariously steep mountain path. The people of Hanshan evidently know how reckless and sketchy their research work is, since they put all of their labs and experiments on the other side of a glacier.
Well it wouldn’t be a proper RPG if we didn’t run into a plot-driven door at some point.
This is a simple quest that feels long because of the elevators we have to ride. Administrator Anoleis is a corrupt jerkfaceWouldn’t this quest be more interesting if he was a nice and funny guy, and was only an asshole to the people he had power over? You’d need a different reason to oppose him, but “Guy who is cool to the player but a tyrant to everyone else” might be a fun hook. who won’t grant you a pass to access the garage, which you need in order to reach the Mako and drive up the mountain to Saren’s lab. You go from Administrator Anoleis, to Agent Parasini, to Lorik, where each of them tells you their particular agenda. Then you have a little scuffle at Lorik’s office, and you decide which of the previous three people you want to work with in exchange for a pass. If it wasn’t for all the walking and elevator-riding the whole thing would be over in less than five minutes. But that’s not a very good reason to have all the walking and elevator riding.
And yes, it makes no blazing sense in the universe that the Mako is already in the unreachable garage. I forgot to get a screenshot, but I’m pretty sure you can even see it on the map if you visit the garage entrance before you’re granted access. While I praise this game as a “Details First” story, this seems like a pretty big detail to overlook. Is the Mako in the garage supposed to be from the Normandy? If so, then how did it get there? If not, then is this just a… public Mako? Like, is this bouncy tank turret and machine gun just up for grabs for anyone who comes through. A courtesy tank?
I think I needed just one line of dialog in there somewhere acknowledging this. If Joker called and said, “Oh, by the way commander, so-and-so at the dock says we have access to the garage so I told them to transfer the Mako out there for you. Figured you didn’t want to walk. But, you know. It’s up to you. You’re welcome.” Even if it wasn’t clear how the Mako was transferred from one side of the building to the other, it would at least smooth out this seemingly impossible situation. It would seem like an abstraction of “we didn’t want to depict the Mako moving around in a cutscene” instead of “we forgot that tanks aren’t naturally occurring”.
The other problem with the area is the need for excessive backtracking. We can forgiveOr at least, *I* can, you big meanie. the annoying loading-screen elevators as an unfortunate limitation of the engine, but did the designers really need to have us crossing this empty space and running around all these baffle walls so many timesI assume the baffle walls are there to cut down on how much the game needs to draw, but even if you removed them these places would have a fraction of the detail we see in the Citadel. The Citadel had a larger area, a more complex backdrop, a more open design, and more NPCs. I can’t imagine why would would need baffle walls here and not there.?
Given the Trek-like tone of the rest of this universe, I find the heavy-handed “evil corporations” angle to be kind of odd. Not bad, mind you. Just unexpected. It feels almost cyberpunk. On Feros, ExoGeni perpetrated a horrific crime by deliberately placing colonists over the Thorian to see what it would do to them. Here on Noveria, the companies are all trying to spy on each other. Anoleis is basically a crime boss, the port security are all a bunch of bribed thugs, and it’s clear half the science here was crazy irresponsible weapons and biotech research before Saren showed up with his Rachni queen.
The Trek stuff is positive and hopeful and sees technological progress as a positive thing emerging from cooperation and creativity. Cyberpunk often views technology as sinister, risky, cutthroat, and the the resulting technologies often only serve to highlight our depravities. The game shows us all these wonderful technologies that don’t seem to have any glaring downsides. They don’t pollute, or create danger, or run on resources acquired from slave labor, or anything else we associate with stories about “bad” technology. But then we see where the technology comes from and it’s this circus of lawless plotting, theft, espionage, and carelessness. This mix of optimism and nihilism is jarring and I wonder how much of it was deliberate and how much was just the result of mixing together disparate tropes.
I’m not saying the “evil corporations” angle is wrong, per se. It’s just an odd combination. It makes me curious how other technology research works in this universe. Is this how everyone does it? Or is this a reflection on the relative hostility of the terminus systems? Or is this problem unique to private research, to be contrasted with the public-sector success of the Alliance / Turian collaboration in developing the Normandy? Or perhaps a commentary on how humans are kind of screwups compared to everyone else?
Or maybe I’m over-thinking this and the evil corporations thing is just there to justify a world where Shepard needs to go around shooting stuff instead of calling the cops.
At one point it’s revealed that basically everyone knows there’s some kind of containment-breach type emergency going on at Peak 15, and nobody has any plans to do anything about it. It’s apparently standing procedure that if Peak 15 doesn’t signal the all-clear, NDC will just vaporize the installation with a missile. Nobody cares, nobody has any empathy for each other, and nobody finds this chaos all that noteworthy. At any rate, it really says something that in the next game, when Cerberus shows up they make these clowns look like a bunch of humanitarian geniuses.
I really appreciated the time the game spent justifying Saren’s resources. We learn here that Saren has a share in some of these companies, which explains why he has this massive facility all to himself up on Peak 15. Elsewhere you have a conversation with Wrex that reveals that Saren has been hiring mercs to pirate supplies for him. His turn to evil was not recent, and he’s spent a long time – possibly decades – building up the facilities he’s using. The writers could have waved their magic wands and just said, “He’s the bad guy, so of course he has mooks!” but they took the time to hint at where his resources were coming from.
The game also makes it clear that Noveria is outside of Citadel space, which explains why nobody came and took all his toys away when he was stripped of his Spectre status.
I really have to wonder about the environment design here. The entire complex is a maze of elevators and long box hallways, with just four or five meaningful rooms between them. A few of the hallways are justified as arenas for combat, but the vast majority of them are just empty space. The Citadel made it clear that this engine is capable of doing large-ish areas, so I have no idea why Peak 15 is broken into all of these minuscule zones.
The elevators hurt the most. They’re long and boring. There’s no character chatter. No flavor dialog. You can’t even fidget by moving around. You’re locked in place with nothing to do until the ride stops. The elevators also turn the map into an unreadable mess by dividing the labs into a bunch of different little zones. This is irritating enough when you know where you’re going, but for a newbie it’s complete torture to wander around, trying to make sense of how these spaces connect.
It’s always great to see Marina Sirtis working. The Trek franchise is a strange place for actors to wind up. It can keep you gainfully employed for decades, but at the same time it leads to an odd sort of stagnation. Usually fame is a stepping stone to greater success, but with Trek you wind up with these people who are both instantly recognizable, yet somehow unemployable outside of Trek. For example, there’s no good reason in the world that Robert Picardo didn’t get a career boost from Voyager the way Brian Cranston got a boost from Breaking Bad, other than the fact that Trek forms this strange, insular acting ghetto that few performers can escapeAlthough when Patrick Stewart escaped it, he REALLY escaped it.. His portrayal of the Holodoc was brilliant, and since then I don’t think he’s been given anything worthy of his talentsI looked up some Stargate episodes he was in. He did fine, but it didn’t look like the role gave him anything fun or challenging to do..
I really like Sirtis. Everyone remembers Counselor Deanna Troi as a joke who would use her powers as a space-psychic to tell us that she could sense “hostility” in the aliens currently torpedoing the Enterprise. But like Kate Mulgrew years later, I think Sirtis was given disastrously bad dialog and did her best to make it work.
This performance as Benezia is actually really tough to pull off. You have to introduce this character, establish her allegiance, do a quick heel-face turn, deliver some exposition, and then have a melodramatic death scene. Oh, and you have to do with with just your voice, because your body will be animated (not mocapped) by someone else, and your in-game face will barely emote. That’s asking for a lot from a voice performer in a very short time, and the fact that this doesn’t dissolve into an accidental comedy is a miracle. The fact that Sirtis can actually make this work and inject some pathos into a videogame boss fight is a testament to her talent.
Vader Built C3P0
The decision to have Matriarch Benezia be Liara’s mother is a little uncharacteristic of the tone of Mass Effect. It just so happens that Saren is looking for Prothean ruins, and his right hand is an Asari Matriarch, but one of the best Prothean researchers in the galaxy just happens to be the Matriarch’s daughter? That’s quite a coincidence, and it makes the galaxy feel a little small. The dialog sometimes makes it sound like you recruit Liara because of her mother, but of course the far better reason to get her is that she knows Prothean ruins. This is a very Drama First setup.
It’s a contrivance, but it’s a mild contrivance that is economical in terms of screen time and it heightens the emotional payload of one of the most pivotal scenes in the story. I only point this out to show that yes, I recognize Mass Effect 1 isn’t some flawless unassailable classic. Nor is it a structure of pure logic. It has little lapses and minor dramatic cheats in the margins. (Or in this case, brazenly in the middle of the story.) It’s not perfect, but it cheats a little in the service of doing something really difficult (big-idea space opera) while the later games cheat a lot to accomplish something easy (spectacle-focused action schlock) and pointing out the flaws of Mass Effect 1 doesn’t get Mass Effect 2 off the hook. As always, story collapse is less of a binary thing and more a matter of degrees.
It’s not like it’s a plot hole. It certainly doesn’t break the story. If Saren was the uncle of Garrus and it turned out that KirraheHe of “Hold the Line!” fame. was good buddies with Shepard’s mom, then I think things might unravel. There’s room to fudge things for the sake of drama as long as you don’t push it.
At any rate, this setup does give Benezia a better buildupAssuming you actually GET Liara before heading to Noveria.. Without Liara explaining her Mother’s wise and gentle nature, Benezia would probably be reduced to a boring mind-controlled bad guy. Liara’s viewpoint allows us to see her downfall as tragic and shows that even noble, intelligent, strong-willed people can be indoctrinated.
We’ll talk more about the other events on Noveria in the next entry.
 Wouldn’t this quest be more interesting if he was a nice and funny guy, and was only an asshole to the people he had power over? You’d need a different reason to oppose him, but “Guy who is cool to the player but a tyrant to everyone else” might be a fun hook.
 Or at least, *I* can, you big meanie.
 I assume the baffle walls are there to cut down on how much the game needs to draw, but even if you removed them these places would have a fraction of the detail we see in the Citadel. The Citadel had a larger area, a more complex backdrop, a more open design, and more NPCs. I can’t imagine why would would need baffle walls here and not there.
 Although when Patrick Stewart escaped it, he REALLY escaped it.
 I looked up some Stargate episodes he was in. He did fine, but it didn’t look like the role gave him anything fun or challenging to do.
 He of “Hold the Line!” fame.
 Assuming you actually GET Liara before heading to Noveria.
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